On the 2021 New England Patriots

If I’d been put in charge of writing the fate of the 2021 New England Patriots, the way things shook out in real life is about how I would’ve written it. The team took an undeniable step forward from a frustrating and embarrassing 2020 (I can relate), but they also aren’t quite there just yet (I can relate again).

Most importantly, they seem to have found a competent quarterback. Mac Jones is no Tom Brady, but in his first year under center he looked poised, smart, and accurate. That’s a foundation any quarterback should be able to build upon, and the Pats’ brain trust should be more than capable of helping him fulfill his potential. I will admit, however, that there is still some question as to just how high that potential might be. Mac can play, but whether he can truly lead a team to playoff success remains to be seen. The team often seemed hesitant to put the game on his shoulders, which makes me wonder what the geniuses in charge know that the rest of us don’t.

The collapse of the team’s defense, however, is a big cause for concern. Matthew Judon went from stud to bust in a matter of weeks. Toward the end of the season, it often felt like the D was mostly waiting for their opponent to make a mistake rather than actively trying to stop progress. Star cornerback J. C. Jackson’s is a free agent and will probably be looking for the sort of pay day the Patriots have historically been loathe to grant that position. Donta Hightower and the McCourty twins are another year older. After spending big on the offense last offseason, the Patriots look likely to have to invest heavily on the other side of the ball this time around.

But that’s the narrative, and it’s compelling. It’s got me interested in the team again after a few years of skipping the games and just reading the headlines. I’m hooked because there’s momentum here, but there’s also mystery. Can Mac take that next step? Can Bill Belichick fill in the holes around him on the offensive line and in the defense? I don’t know, but I’ll take this over “Tom Brady and his trainer are pissy about something again” any day of the week. I’m so glad the Patriots are about football again.